There’s a game we learned how to play as children. Remember this? Parent – “Who tracked this mud into the house?” Children (pointing fingers) – “Freddy did it!” Then there was always that one kid who did this. Tattle-Tale Kid – “Miss Flanders, Jimmy knocked over the globe in the back of the room after recess and broke it.” As we got older and started our careers, how many times did we hear conversations like this? “We lost the Smith account. It was because John Doe didn’t pull his weight and let us down.” Ah yes, we all know about the “blame game.”
Why is it that human nature drives us to deflect blame and make sure everyone knows “I didn’t do it?” Is this a self-confidence thing? Maybe it’s reflective of the fact that none of us want to disappoint others. Whatever the case, the blame game is unproductive in any entrepreneurial environment. And it signals a flaw in an organization’s culture when the game is played regularly. Perhaps those who make mistakes are so severely held accountable that everyone is afraid to be tagged with a flub.
Entrepreneurial leaders should shun the blame game and adopt a different mindset. It’s a mindset that goes like this – “It may not be my fault, but it is my problem.” And here’s where the real leadership begins. Rather than reacting with a “whose fault is this,” the enlightened leader says instead, “Houston, we have a problem. Let’s talk about how we’re going to fix it.” Thus, the first step is identifying the problem and working with the team to find a solution. When we make this the go-to response every single time, the fear of blame among our teammates is dissipated. But solving the problem doesn’t mean that we’re finished with the issue.
Once the smoke clears and the problem has been fixed, it’s critical that we move to the second step. This is where we look at the various facets of the problem and figure out how it can be prevented in the future. It might be that we need to re-design a system or process. Maybe more training would be helpful. It’s also possible that roles and accountabilities for the team members involved weren’t as clear and precise as necessary. All of this can be accomplished without playing the blame game.
Let’s apply these principles to a real-life scenario.
Old Way – Boss says to his employees, “We were just fired by a customer because the product he ordered wasn’t delivered on time. I want to know who is at fault here, and that person needs to be standing in my office before 4:30 this afternoon.” What happens next? The blame game starts, and someone invariably is singled out to be the sacrificial lamb. They know that there are going to be harsh repercussions, and no one wants to be anywhere close to the boss’s office at 4:30.
Better Way – Entrepreneur says to the team, “We were just fired by a customer because the product he ordered wasn’t delivered on time. I have apologized to him on behalf of our organization and told him that not only is there no charge for his product, but to convince him to give us another chance, we’ll give him a 50% discount on his next order.”
Later in the day the customer agrees to give the company another chance at which point the entrepreneurial leader says to the team, “Congratulations! Our customer has agreed to give us another chance. Let’s meet at 4:30 to talk about how we can make sure that our systems and processes are modified to ensure that our products are always delivered on time.”
The team members at the first company are fearful and aren’t the least bit interested in dealing with the problem. The just want to avoid the wrath of the boss. The team members at the second company are focused on fixing the problem and then figuring out how to keep it from happening again. There is no fear because their leader subscribes to a no-fault, work-the-problem philosophy.
Our entrepreneurial endeavors are much more likely to flourish when our team members can focus on fixing problems that arise as opposed to being on the defensive and looking over their shoulders in fear. The premise is a simple yet powerful one.
This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.